Monday, March 14, 2016

Poem of the Week 3.14. 16

Angela Carter, a feminist and magical-realist author, once said something loosely relevant to the subject of this week's poem, and quite relevant to a lot of what I've been thinking about:

All books, even cookery books and car-maintenance manuals, consist of narratives. Narrative is written in language but it is composed, if you follow me, in time. All writers are inventing a kind of imitation time… they are playing a complicated game with our time, the reader’s time, the time it takes to read a story. A good writer can make you believe time stands still. Yet the end of all stories, even if the writer forbears to mention it, is death, which is where our time stops short. Scheherezade knew this, which is why she kept on spinning another story out of the bowels of the last one, never coming to a point where she could say: ‘This is the end.’ Because it would have been. We travel along the thread of narrative like high-wire artistes. That is our life.
-- Angela Carter

I have been reading more of John Ashbery lately, (because I may or may not have walked in to an event late and nearly interrupted his reading of a poem last month.)

John Ashbery is the kind of poet who is aware of his own paradox: as he once mentioned in an interview, young people have been known to look up to him, and yet "no one understands" him.

He is a stark reminder that poetry does not need to fight to be understood, and nor does it have to wear itself out by trying to explain itself.

That is, if you follow me, what makes time stand still, and not in the best way possible-- such writing gives way to stagnancy. In trying to communicate at all costs, it only ends up rearranging, reiterating and rephrasing the same ideas and motifs endlessly. There is no real exploration; only a compartmentalization of themes, in which the writing process feels like forever rearranging the furniture in a empty room. But Ashbery's poems are nothing at all like that.

And so, without further ado, here is the lovely Scheherezade by John Ashbery --

It is a poetry that demands to be felt rather than understood. The poem has movement and narrative, and yet is an entity unto itself. There is no visible safety net, and so the bravery shows along with its uniqueness; this is the only poem of its kind. It is not pedantic or preachy, and yet it is declarative.     I admire John Ashbery in the same sphere of poets who hold their ground in the face of not being understood, and did not allow their work to be swayed or stifled by this fear. 

-- Anna

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